Brrrrrrr! Toronto is a three or four hour flight from Cuba. Depends upon where you go. I'm back in Toronto from Santiago de Cuba, down on the south shore of the island.
It's a quick turn around. Then I'm off to Varadero and Havana for a bit. Oh the joys of retirement, come Canadian winter ....
The Brisas Sierra Mar Resort, Santiago de Cuba: I spent a week enjoying it's dumfy charms. In a run down room far from the busy hustle and bustle of the other guests upstairs by the crowded pool. The deck lounge. The lobby bar.
My rattly old sliding doors open to the beach. All week I perch myself on an old battered lounge chair in the dark sand, below a swaying palm, gazing out at the tumultuous turquoise sea, against the steep backdrop of the towering mountain range. Enjoy long walks along the endless, desolate sand beach. The huge breakers crashing along the coast. The pounding surf. The salty air.
Sometimes, I swam out to the reef. Usually quite alone, I'd silently ride the giant swell of the waves, rising and falling in harmony with the elements. Follow the long, reef stretching along the coast. Never getting too close to the giant shards of rough coral, especially with a huge wave in sight. Staying just inside the reef, I'd dive deep, deep down, 16 to 20 feet or so to the sandy bottom. Testing my endurance. Eager to explore more. Check out the fish!
Unlike on past visits, the winds were just too strong to stay out long. So I'd suntan on the beach. The hot, hot Caribbean sun beating down on me. I close my eyes. Drink in the experience with all my senses.
It's a snapshot of the mind that I'll pull out on the long, cold winter nights ahead. Closing my eyes again, I drift back. In my mind's eye, I am still there.
My faithful travelling companion and sister Mary Anne once again joined me. We lounge about. Engage in idle chatter. Read a book. Catch up on things. She's a beach person too. Some folks are. Some aren't. We love it!
For tunes? I'm on a Beach Boys Binge. Might be cold here in Canada but I'm lying there in bliss. Listening. The Chuck Berry rock n' roll guitars! The soaring harmonies! The weaving prototype Pepperland melodies. Juxtaposed psychedelic sounds. I SMiLE! It's a surreal psychedelic barbershop quintet on acid swirling between my headphones as I stare out to sea.
We only engaged in one trip, to bring flowers to Fidel at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetary outside Santiago de Cuba. About an hour away. I also got our driver to take us into town. Drop off Professors Jose Luis and Marta at their home down by the cathedral in the city centre. Catch a glimpse of the mad rush of life in Santiago; a 500 year old, crumbling city, lost in time.
Jose Luis and Marta came out to the hotel for a few days. To enjoy the beach. The buffet. To talk Cuban School talk. To talk Jose Marti. Fidel Castro. The Beatles.
I provided some more funding for the "Ingles Para Ti "English instruction workbook. A new edition to be used in the isolated mountain schools. I hope to return to Santiago this spring, stay in the city. Follow up on our efforts.
At home with Prof Jose Luis, Santiago de Cuba!
My trip -other than that? Here's a first! Our hotel was mostly populated with Canadian tourists from Toronto and Montreal. What followed was a very Canadian experience!The Smokers and Non-Smokers clashed. A giant free for all. 
There were a handful of incidents. Over my morning coffee, I watched as a non smoker grabbed a smoker's expensive Go Pro camera. Said he'd only give it back if he didn't smoke at the resort for the rest of the week. Didn't know each other. Nobody smoking at the time. Absurd!
A fight ensued. Followed by an impromptu 2 am knock 'em, sock 'em, chance encounter at the piano bar. Bizarre!
The lobby piano bar -a very exciting place!
2 am seemed to be extra special. Another night at 2ish, a non smoker kicked a door right off it's hinges because he thought the guests in the room below him where smoking in bed. Reminds me of an old joke:
Q: Do you smoke in bed?
A: Dunno, I never looked!
This was hardly funny though. For the most part, I was just content to stay put down by the beach. It was safe. Quiet. Not too busy. The sun. The sea. The sand. A live Cuban band. Drinks from the open bar .....
The food? Blech! Luckily we brought lots of our own snacks. Nutrition bars.
On the flight home there was an air rage incident, as the smokers and non smokers clashed in the tight, narrow aisle way onboard the airplane. The rest of us were stuck in our seats. The RCMP waiting to arrest the culprits when we landed back in Toronto.
Yes! Fighting on an airplane, along with death threats, is a federal offence. No! It's not funny when you are stuck sitting there in your seat, nowhere safe to go. While folks try to kill each other in a fight over non-smoker's rights. When nobody is even smoking!
The cost? El cheapo! About $1000 Canadian for the week. All inclusive. There were problems, but tell me -where else in the Caribbean you can find a place at that price this time of year?
For me, the beach is the thing. And the Cuban people, for their part, as always, were a pure delight. I'd give the vacation two thumbs up! But pulled no punches, so to speak!
I'm off to Havana and Varadero in February with family and friends. This time we will do the hotel, tourist, city thing to the max, for a change of pace. Hmmmm.
My sister and I in Cuba!
 Smoking wasn't allowed in the restaurants and dining room. That worked out well. However, as far as the open public areas and bars go, the smoking law seems quite different than in Canada. I'm a non tobacco smoker. Sure as hell wouldn't smoke a joint there either. I didn't find the situation too bad. Certainly wasn't deserving of the conflict that ensued, a first for me in Cuba or for that matter anywhere in the Caribbean I've been. Whew!